––Consider this our Meet Cute.

My name is Cole Schafer. I'm a writer. But, more importantly, I'm your "professor", at least whenever you step foot inside this virtual classroom.

Yale, Harvard, Stanford and the like have yet to hire me to teach writing at their respective universities.

So, I suppose I will have to get my fix here. I'm not one for lengthy introductions. If you'd like to learn more about me, you can do so here.

Otherwise, I'd simply like to say that I'm glad you made it and that I think you'll find this course to be well worth the investment of both your time and money. 

Now, what the hell is a “Meet-cute”?

A Meet-cute generally only happens in the movies.

It's a scene that depicts a charming first encounter between two previously unintroduced characters that eventually leads to a romantic relationship of some kind. 

These scenes normally look something like this...


Jennifer, a painter living in Greenwich Village, runs home in the rain lugging a paper bag full of art supplies and a canvas the size of a small dinner table.

Too cumbersome to fit underneath her arm, she holds the canvas out in front of her like a shield, making her blind to everything in front of her save for her falling feet on the wet pavement.

When Jennifer rounds the corner, she hears a ferocious tear as she's knocked to the ground, along with her art supplies. 

She opens her eyes to see her canvas levitating in the air with a man's head poking through, staring back at her wide-eyed, wet and confused.

Jennifer screams, cursing the head for ruining her canvas. 

Greg, the financial analyst––to whom the head belongs––screams and curses back at Jennifer for screaming and cursing at him.

The two keep screaming and cursing one another for a while when it suddenly dawns on Jennifer that while she can't see the rest of Greg's figure, he has a terribly handsome mug.

The conversation goes quiet. The rain continues to pour. Greg lifts the torn canvas off of his head, helps Jennifer up and then holds the shitty, make-shift umbrella above her to keep her dry as she collects her art supplies.

Finally, Jennifer says, "Would you mind if I paint you?"


Viola! Meet-cute.

I'm a helpless romantic. I love a good Meet-cute. So much so, that if I weren't a writer, I'd run a company that creates orchestrated "Meet-cutes" for couples that Meet online. 

Perhaps, in another life. 

For now, I have to make my living writing, instead.

It's worth mentioning that the Meet-cute stretches beyond the rom-com. We experience Meet-cutes every day on the internet as we fall in love with the many minds that inhabit it.

Learning to express yourself with the written word allows you to create hundreds of tiny Meet-cutes between yourself (the writer) and others (the readers) who don't yet know who you are.

In Meet-cute, the guide you’re reading now, I’m going to teach you how to write in such a way that your readers will fall head over heels for you.

We’re going to begin here shortly. But, first, let’s touch briefly on the various ways in which you can approach this guide.

For leisure.

If you’re anything like me and you hate homework and you prefer to read something all the way through, you’re in great luck!

I wrote Meet-cute to be wildly entertaining, packed full of captivating stories, interesting tidbits and wondrous lessons; and something that can be enjoyed with your morning cup of coffee or your evening glass of wine.

Read. Take notes (if you so choose). Then, walk away inspired and try to apply a few of the lessons you’ve gleaned next time you sit down to the page.

For work.

Now, if you picked up Meet-cute because you’re ready to really sit down and dedicate yourself to becoming a better writer, I’ve got to tell you about Mark.

*In walks Mark*

Growing up in Southern Indiana, I had a basketball coach named Mark. 

Mark was a white guy that stood about 5 foot 9 inches tall, wore a pot belly and, in a past life, played Division I basketball at the University of Evansville. 

During the summers, Mark frequented the gym where I practiced. He'd play pick-up ball during his lunch break and, in between games, he'd give me some pointers. 

One day after seeing me lollygag in the gym for a couple of hours, Mark jogged over and delivered me some tough love...

"You're in here all the time practicing, thinking you're getting better but you're really just grab-assing––wasting your time and talent."

Mark then took my basketball from me––rather forcibly––and he began doing the very same drills I was doing.

But, instead of "going through the motions" he was doing the drills so fast and with so much intensity that after 2-3 minutes, sweat was pouring off of him by the liter.

After this middle-aged man had shown me up in the middle of this fully-packed gym, he handed me the basketball and then gave me a lesson that still remains branded in my head to this day, long since I've traded out the sport for writing. 

In not so many words, Mark said...

"You don't get better by practicing at half-speed for hours every single day. Get in here. Lace-up. Grab a ball. Set 60-minutes on the clock. Bust your ass. Then, get out of here and enjoy the rest of your day. Chase girls. Go swimming. Enjoy your summer. Whatever."

This is the very same advice I'm going to give to you today––and it's the very same advice I'd like you to follow through the remainder of this course. 

Becoming a better writer isn't about spending hours out of your day hunched over your desk, tapping away at a machine.

It's about windowing out a little time each day to write and doing this writing with a great deal of intensity, intentionality and tenacity. 

At the bottom of every lesson you’ll find in here, there is a writing prompt. The rules to these prompts are fairly straightforward.

Remove any and all distractions from what you’ve chosen to be your writing room (phones, laptops and screens of any kind). Set a timer for 60-minutes. Then, write your heart out. When the timer goes off, take a few minutes to see to your typos and you’re done.

That's it––then you can go out and chase girls or guys or watch Netflix or change diapers or fetch dinner or rifle through your emails or whatever it is you fancy.

Oh, and if you’d like to post your pieces somewhere, great. And, if you’d like to keep your pieces all to yourself, that’s fine too.

Okay, now we can begin.

Chapter One––What writers can learn from Avalanche survival.

Soundtrack: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

You're a quarter of the way down a run. You look over your shoulder to see your best friends are quite a ways back. You slow down, cutting the edges of your skis into the slope to rachet down your speed.

You spy what looks to be a good lookout point up ahead and so you let what's left of your momentum carry you to this place. 

Once there you lean up against a large Spruce, tear off your gloves, reach for the flask in your coat pocket and take a nip from its mouth. Its contents burn a bit going down but leave your throat, chest, belly and soul as warm as a hearth. 

The air is cold but crisp. You catch yourself grinning from ear to ear as you look up the mountain to see your best friends snaking their way down its steep face; slowly but surely.

Suddenly, you hear a deafening crack that whiplashes through the canyon––

The smile on your face melts to overwhelming peril as you see movement on the mountain, high above. It's a million tons of snow devouring everything in its path.

You turn, crouch and take off down the mountain. Your heart is pounding violently in your chest as if it wants out. You can hear the screaming and the crushing of bodies and snow behind you.

You can feel the violent rumble underneath your skis but you press on––you press on until you're hit in the back with a force akin to a MACK Truck. Your vision goes from white to black, to white to black, to white to black, to nothing––

When you regain consciousness, you realize you're buried alive. Panic sets in. Then, dread. 

You attempt to thrash but you are held still as if clasped in the fist of a giant. You move your head: left and then right, forward and then backward until you've cleared out a pocket of air the size of a basketball.

You try to spit but your mouth is so bone dry it's nothing more than a pathetic attempt at a whistle. You cock your chin towards your throat and take in a mouthful of snow. You try to spit again––this time saliva and melted snow fill your nose and eyes. 

You're upside down.

You begin wiggling. Your head. Your hands. Your arms. Your legs. Your feet. You wiggle everything in tiny rapid movements––like the wiggling of a bee's wings––until you've holed out enough room to move about. 

Then, you dig. 

You dig and you dig and you dig until your head is where your boots were and your boots are where your head was. You keep digging. More snow. You keep digging. More snow. You keep digging. More snow. You keep digging. Air.

I read somewhere––I can’t remember where––that after falling victim to an avalanche one is supposed to wiggle their head from left to right and front to back in order to make a small cavern where they can breathe and have enough room to spit.

While avalanches are a force of nature, they don’t disobey the laws of gravity. So, by spitting and watching where the saliva falls, one can quickly gather at what angle they are buried and, in theory, dig in the opposite direction of where the spit has landed.

In this way, getting one’s bearings can be the difference between living and dying. I’d argue the same can be applied to writing.

When I am lost on the page and I feel the claustrophobic feeling of not knowing where to dig nor where to write, I begin by describing where I am at; I begin by getting my bearings.

Lesson One––All the prose you’ll ever need is right in front of you.

Becoming a better writer is about recognizing that prose is everywhere, even in your writing room. Prose is in the cracks in the ceiling. Prose is in the gouges your dog's nails have left in the hardwood floor. Prose is in the plant on the mantle, dying, because you’ve been watering it too much or too little.

Prose is all around you, begging you to write it down.

Prompt One––Where are you?

Close the door to whatever room you are in. If there is no door, that’s perfectly okay. Now, describe where you are in as much detail as possible. Get your bearings. Describe your environment. Spit.

Chapter Two––How John McPhee got away with writing about oranges, picture frames and bark canoes.

Soundtrack: Blackbird

The pitbull has a tumultuous lineage.

Back in the early 1800s, poorer working-class folks in the United Kingdom would entertain themselves with "bull-baiting", where they'd set two bulldogs loose on a bull, harassing the beast, until it collapsed of injury or tiredness.

For these folks, it was a reprieve from the hardship they experienced on a daily basis. Perhaps, they saw themselves somewhere in the struggling bull.

Eventually, the British Government said enough was enough, they struck up the Cruelty of Animals Act of 1835, and they banned the baiting of bulls and bears.

(How would you like to have been the bulldog that drew the short straw in baiting the bear?)

Suddenly, "rat-baiting" became fashionable.

Those with a hankering for animal fighting began placing bulldogs in small make-shift arenas with dozens and dozens of rats, betting on how many of the rodents they could kill within a specific timeframe.

Breeders soon realized the bulldogs, while powerful, weren't fast enough to keep up with the rats. So, they began cross-breeding them with terriers to create what was, at the time, called a "Bull and Terrier"––the forefather of the pit bull.

Rat-baiting came and went and this gave way to dog fighting (that's a horror story for another day).

What's fascinating about the pitbull, though, is that breeders tended to breed the dogs that showed "bite inhibition" towards humans. This is also referred to as a dog having a "soft mouth".

I own a three-year-old pitbull named June who constantly amazes me at how well she can control her bite.

If we're playing tug-of-war, she can latch down on the rope so tightly that––if I had the desire to––I could pick her up solely by holding the end of the rope and swing her around the room like a Merry-Go-Round.

Yet, if I were to give her an egg and tell her to be "gentle", she could carry it around for hours without breaking it.

The reason breeders bred this quality in the pitbull is so that when they took them into the arena to fight a rat or a dog, they wouldn't lash out and bite their handlers (pit bulls who bit humans were often put down immediately).

As immigrants came over from the UK and began to settle in America, they brought with them the pitbull, which became not only a wildly loyal and gentle dog to its owner and owner's family but an exceptional work dog, guardian and hunter.

The writer John McPhee managed to achieve something many writers don't… the freedom to write about anything, no matter how boring the topic.

McPhee wrote entire books about engineering, Wimbledon, Alaskan wildlife, Russian Art, picture frames, binding energy, bark canoes, fishing and oranges.


Lesson Two––If you care about the topic, you’re readers will too.

Unless you’re a pitbull owner like myself, you probably couldn’t give a shit less about the breed.

You certainly didn't wake up today thinking you would get lost in a couple hundred word lecture about the tumultuous lineage of the pitbull. Yet, here you are.

There’s no such thing as a boring topic. As long as the writer is interested in the topic, the reader will be too. Why? Because the writer’s interest will shine through in the writing.

As a writer, it’s better to write on a boring topic that you’re fascinated by versus a fascinating topic that you’re bored by.

Prompt Two––Rewind to yesterday.

I adore this line from John McPhee’s legendary book on writing, Draft No. 4

“Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word?”

Read back through the piece you wrote yesterday and choose a single word from the environment that you described.

Take 15-minutes to read as much as you possibly can about that word and then tell me everything there is to know about it.

Chapter Three––The delicate art of slipping on your invisibility cloak.

Soundtrack: American Woman

The most invisible I've ever felt was standing in the middle of the MET Museum, clutching an ornate drink and watching hundreds of the most famous people in the world make small talk with one another. 

Hillary Clinton was staring very intently at an ancient-looking scroll. Elon Musk was mulling something over in his mind behind a pair of glazed eyes. And, Lenny Kravitz was playing American Woman.

At some point, I had forgotten I was there. I had forgotten that I was actually in the room, until I felt a jerk of my pant leg, looked down and saw an actress that had played in this movie and that movie smiling at me, politely asking me to remove my shoe from her friend's long trailing white dress.

I apologized. She said it was perfectly okay. Then, she was gone. And as I watched her walk away I thought about how invisible it must feel, too, existing as a star; just in a different way.

Everybody sees you. But, nobody sees you. I reached for Kace's hand and I squeezed it.

There are two kinds of writers.

Writers who are wallflowers that cling to the sides of the room like shadows and watch as the story plays out.

And then there are writers who are participants, who throw themselves into a room, becoming characters in the story, taking a part in how it plays out.

Here in several chapters, we will discuss the latter––how to become the kind of writer that places yourself in interesting situations as an active participant––but for today, we will focus on the former.

Lesson Three––There’s absolutely no shame in being a Peeping Tom.

In John Steinbeck’s gorgeous memoir, Travels With Charley, he divulges a dirty secret that helped make him such a sensational writer…

… also, I am not shy about admitting that I am an incorrigible Peeping Tom. I have never passed an unshaded window without looking in, have never closed my ears to a conversation that was none of my business. I can justify or even dignify this by protesting that in my trade I must know about people, but I suspect that I am simply curious.

Carry a pen and a little notebook around with you everywhere you go and like Steinbeck––peep, eavesdrop, watch and listen––be unapologetic in your sensational appetite to gather material from those around you.

Prompt Three––Describe a time you’ve felt invisible.

Describe a time when you have felt invisible: invisible to a lover, invisible to a boss, invisible to a room, invisible to a friend, invisible to the world, etc.

Then, at the end of your piece, flip the script for 2-3 sentences and describe how, without realizing it, you may have made someone else feel invisible in this very same room.

Chapter Four––Taking a closer look at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dick.

Sound Track: Slow Show

Years ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald called upon Ernest Hemingway, completely out of sorts.

He had just gotten into a knock-down-drag-out fight with his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, and she had admitted to him that she thought he had a small dick.

Legend has it that Hemingway took Fitzgerald into the bathroom at the café where they were conversing and had him drop his trousers so he could have a closer look.

Hemingway then walked Fitzgerald outside to gaze upon the marble sculptures outside the Louvre in Paris and showed him that a man's dick varied considerably in size depending on the vantage point of the viewer.

The thought of arguably the two greatest American writers of the past century spending their Tuesday afternoon talking about their dicks and their insecurities outside the Louvre is hysterical to me.

But, that’s not the reason I’ve brought all this up.

Lesson Four––There are three sides to every story and the writer must know each and every one.

Just like there are three sides to the size of Fitzgerald’s dick, there are three sides to every story.

There’s F. Scott’s side. There’s Zelda’s side. And, then, there’s Hemingway’s side.

Because F. Scott is a man, he probably thought his dick was larger than it really was.

Because Zelda was upset with F. Scott, she probably told him it was smaller than it really was.

And, because Hemingway couldn’t care less whether F. Scott’s dick was big or small, he probably had the most realistic perception of his friend’s size and girth.

(Side note: I’ve always found the word “girth” to be such a repulsive word…)

Your job as a writer is to find the truth and then tell it; to see things not as you want them to be but instead as they truly are.

Prompt Four––When was the last time you’ve wanted to punch someone in the face?

Tell me about the last time you’ve wanted to punch someone in the face.

For the first twenty minutes, tell the story solely and very biasedly from your vantage point.

For the second twenty minutes, tell the story from their vantage point (from the perspective of the person you wanted to punch in the face).

Then, for the last five minutes, tell the truth.

Chapter Five––Be weary of running too many red lights. 

Sound Track: Running Red Lights

A morning drive into work looks different when you're running late….

"BRRRRRRIIIIIING. BRRRRRRIIIIIING. BRRRRRRIIIIIING. You turn over. Your vision is blurred. You reach for your phone. You’re late. You’re really fucking late. You brush your teeth. You throw on your jeans and sneakers and shirt in orchestrated chaos and run out your front door like a bat out of hell. You can’t get into your car fast enough. You buckle up as you pull out of your driveway. You roll past stop sign after stop sign. You wish red lights to turn green; green lights to stay green. You eye the clock on your dash as if, at any moment, it could hatch spiders. You swear at the snailing car in front of you taking its sweet time. You lean into turns like you're a Formula-1 driver. You pray there is a spot open so that you don't have to park several streets over."

Let's take this same morning drive but pretend you never hit "snooze"…

"You clutch your coffee as you mosey out the front door, feeling its warmth on your hands and the energy its contents are beginning to stir up inside of you. You grin at your grass as if it is human. It looks awfully green and so beautifully manicured, especially after the blade you ran across its surface the morning prior. Your neighbor is reading a book on his front porch. You wave, feeling thankful to be surrounded by neighbors you don't want to punch in the face. Once in your car, you pull up an album your friend has been begging you to listen to for a few weeks now: Jarrad K's Progress. It takes your breath away. On the road to work, you notice everything. There's a woman jogging with a labrador that's a bit overzealous, tugging at its lead, begging her to go faster; and there's a father standing at the bus stop with his twin girls, their hands in his; and there's a row of bursting rose bushes so bright and so blinding, for a moment you think you’re staring at the sun."

We can experience everything at two speeds: fast and slow.

And, as it turns out, we can write about everything in these two speeds, too. You'll notice the first chunk of text you read had a faster cadence and rhythm to it than the second.

The sentences were shorter, swifter and harder-hitting. There was hardly any meandering. The experience was less a walk or even a "waltz" and more so an all-out lung-throttling, heart-jostling sprint.

Lesson Five––Write fast and slow.

Don’t write fast or slow. Write fast and slow. Stagger your sentences like bricks and stones of all shapes and sizes to make structures that your readers can’t take their eyes off of.

Prompt Five––Describe a time you were going too fast and had to slow down.

I want you to describe a time when you were going way too fast––be it literally or figuratively––and something unexpected happened that forced you to slow down. The first half of your piece should be comprised of shorter, swifter sentences. The second half, longer, deeper sentences.

Chapter Six––Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

Sound Track: Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

It's widely rumored that Jack Kerouac wrote On The Road in three weeks. While I imagine it took a great deal longer than this to actually edit the piece, folks believe the meat and potatoes of the work was prepared in this timeframe.

To achieve a feat like this you have to be 1). a genius and 2). able to tap into your stream of consciousness.

Genius is something you're born with and, unfortunately, not something I can teach here. But, you can learn how to tap into your stream of consciousness with enough practice and intention.

Lesson Six––If you’re writing is lacking originality, try writing before you think.

This metaphor by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami gives me the feeling of stream-of-consciousness…

Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.

Stream-of-consciousness writing is more or less you writing without any sort of filter or judgment. In other words, it's you "writing before you think" versus "thinking before you write".

All writers have a beat to their writing.

A budding writer's beat looks like this...

Pause. Pause. Pause. Write. Pause. Pause. Pause. Write.

As writers gain confidence, question themselves less and more easily find their way into "flow", they'll pen 1-2 sentences at a time, reread them, edit them, delete what needs to be deleted and then continue on to the next couple of sentences.

These writers write at a beat that looks like this...

Write. Write. Pause. Write. Write. Pause. Write. Write.

Stream-of-consciousness writing looks like this…

Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Write. Pause.

Stream-of-consciousness writing, in my opinion, adds more originality and rawness to your prose that overthinking (and overediting) often tends to take out.

Prompt Six––What’s a nightmare that makes you scared to fall asleep?

I want you to remove the "pauses" from your writing entirely.

Set a timer for 30-minutes and describe the worst nightmare you’ve ever had and do so without pausing, editing or filtering anything out; write down anything and everything that comes to mind no matter how ugly or tragic or poorly worded.

Chapter Seven––Make me believe you.

Sound Track: Loser

The characters in the stories you read and watched as a child, could easily be categorized as good or evil.

Take The Little Mermaid for example.

You've got this sweet, red-headed, doe-eyed mermaid named Ariel that so desperately wants to become human so she can marry the love of her life.

Then, you've got a villainous, conniving, power-hungry sea witch in desperate need of some Vitamin D that wants to sabotage Ariel so she can take control of the Ocean.

It's a riveting story as a child but as you get older, and learn through experience that humans are very rarely all good or all evil, it becomes less believable.

If I were to rewrite The Little Mermaid for adult audiences, I'd stick a few tattoos on Ariel, give her a potty mouth, toss several minors on her record, have her develop a bit of a coke addiction over the course of the movie and shoot several scenes of her being an angsty, privileged teenage bitch to her father.

Then, for Ursula, I'd coax her out of her cave so she could enjoy a bit of sun, deafen the purple eye-shadow, dial back the evil grin and devilishly long acrylics, make it so that King Triton can't be in the same room as her without developing a throbbing erection and, most importantly, give her a good reason for wanting to take control of the ocean (perhaps she has ambitions of running a sanctuary that rehabilitates sea turtles that have been hit by propellers or something).

Now, we've got something interesting brewing.

Lesson Seven––Sometimes, you have to make me hate you to believe you.

The problem I see with most writing today––be it essays, poems, short fiction, you name it––is that it lacks depth because it's trying so hard to be "good" versus "honest".

Here's a fundamental truth I believe...

"There's no such thing as "good" or "bad”––there's just honest and dishonest."

There are priests that admit they feverishly masturbate to porn and there are priests that don't. There are husbands and wives who admit they have wandering eyes––this doesn't necessarily mean you act––and there are husbands and wives who don't. There are heroes who admit they have villainous moments and there are heroes who don't.

You have every right to paint yourself however you want. But, by being honest in admitting your flaws, you become believable.

Prompt Seven––Describe a time you fucked up bad.

Describe a time you fucked up bad. Don’t spare any details. Don’t consider the reader’s feelings. Don’t think about how you’re portraying yourself. Don’t pull any punches. Just be honest.

Lesson Eight––Come again?

Soundtrack: Coffee

The best poem I ever wrote was A lifetime of coffees with you. In it, I repeated the word "Coffee" dozens of times to act as a metronome throughout the piece.

It read as follows...



I'd like that.


Yes––but this one's on me.




No––but dinner tonight?


Last night was...


This morning was...


No––come back to bed.


Yes––but first come back to bed.


So, my parents want to meet you.


My momma loves you.


I lo––


I love you.


So our leases are coming up.


Is this too soon?


This feels like home.


I hate this new job.


You're right I should quit.


You've been distant.


What's going on?


I'm not giving up on us.


Come back home.


Let's do Christmas out of the country.


Do you remember that night in London?


I'm late.


Baby, I'm really late.


Are we up for this?


I wonder if it's a boy or a girl.


Jesus Christ––do twins run in your family?


After we drop these two off at school.


We've outgrown this place.


I think this is the one.


My momma isn't doing so well.


I miss her like hell.


I know I've been distant.


I've been dying inside.


I need to get away for a bit.


I miss you––I'm coming back home.


I'm sorry I hurt you.


Thank you for not giving up on us.


Thank you for not giving up on me.


Evelyn met a boy today.


Baby... he wants to take us to dinner.


Is he going to ask us...


He looks at her the way that you look at me.


My baby boy is not becoming a Marine.


You're gonna talk some sense into him.


I've never been prouder.


We did okay by them, didn't we?


Have I told you today how much I love you.


You're as handsome as ever at sixty-two.


The doctor––he says it's for you?


Why didn't you tell me?


You didn't want to worry me?


No––fuck you.


No, baby, I could never hate you.


I'm just gonna––


I'm just gonna––


I'm just gonna––


I'm just gonna miss having coffee with you.

Lesson Eight––Say it again and again and again.

Repetition, at least in writing, is the act of repeating something that has already been said or written.

When done well, it can create powerful prose and act as a "string" that runs through the work, threading it all together like some shimmering silver-lining.

In Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, the author writes the phrase "So it goes" 106 times.

Prompt Eight––Describe a mistake you keep repeating.

Choose a word that means something to you.

It can be any word. Then, write an essay about a mistake you find yourself repeating, again and again, while sprinkling this word throughout the piece in the places where it makes sense to you.

Maybe that's at the end of each paragraph. Maybe that's just once at the beginning, middle and end of your piece.  

Chapter Nine––Obey the rules of Fight Club.

Soundtrack: Another One Bites The Dust

For those unfamiliar with the 80s blockbuster film Roadhouse, it's about a "cooler"––played by Patrick Swayze––who is called into rough and tumble bars to calm them down.

Swayze plays a mysterious cat by the name of John Dalton. He's calm, cool and collected. He's as quiet as a dormouse. He has a degree from NYU in philosophy. And, you soon find out that he's the toughest sonofabitch in town. 

While Dalton spends most of his time with his shirt off beating the living shit out of bad guys, he drops a handful of literary gems that are worth reciting again and again. 

My favorite part in the movie is when Dalton circles all the bouncers at the Double Deuce––the saloon he's been hired to "cool"––and explains the three rules of taming a wild a bar…

  • Never underestimate your opponent––expect the unexpected
  • Take it outside––never start anything inside unless it’s absolutely necessary
  • Be nice

One of the knuckle-headed bouncers gives him shit for Rule #3, to which Dalton responds rather stoically...

"I want you to be nice until it's time not to be nice."

Rules are constantly used by writers to create structure in a story. Elmore Leonard, arguably the greatest crime novelist to ever live, use this strategy in his book Swag, a story about a pair of bank robbers. 

While at a diner, Frank Ryan––the more seasoned of the two bank robbers––scribbles on a napkin his lies of commandments that armed robbers should follow to avoid getting caught. He titles them "10 rules for success and happiness" and they read as follows…

  • Always be polite on the job. Say please and thank you.
  • Never say more than is necessary.
  • Never call your partner by name––unless you use a made-up name.
  • Dress well. Never look suspicious or like a bum.
  • Never use your own car.
  • Never count the take in the car.
  • Never flash money in a bar or with women.
  • Never go back to an old bar or hang out once you have moved up.
  • Never tell anyone your business. Never tell a junkie even your name.
  • Never associate with people known to be in crime.

And, of course, we can't forget about the rules in Chuck Palahnuik's legendary book, Fight Club

  • You do not talk about Fight Club
  • You do not talk about Fight Club
  • Someone yells "stop", goes limp, taps out––the fight is over
  • Only two guys to a fight
  • One fight at a time
  • No shirts, no shoes
  • Fights will go on as long as they have to
  • If this is your fight night at Flight Club, you have to fight

Lesson Nine––Leverage a written list of rules to create structure in your writing.

Writers use rules in their writing to…

  • Create structure
  • Institute laws in their make-believe worlds
  • Share important information, quickly
  • Give backstory

You should, too.

Prompt Nine––What’s a sticky situation you’ve been in?

For today's assignment, I want you to pick a sticky situation that you've been in. Begin by introducing the situation briefly with 2-3 sentences. Then, create a list of rules to protect others who might one day find themselves in said sticky situation. 

Some sticky situations you might consider... 

"How to not get divorced..."

"How to survive a car wreck..."

"How to stop being an alcoholic..."

"How to not get fired..."

"How to not get mugged (and/or kick a mugger's ass)..."

Chapter Ten––Don’t try to be interesting, try to be curious.

Soundtrack: Oil & Lavender

This past year, I've written a series of letters under the alias of a fictional woman.

I can't tell you her name nor the brand that has hired me to write under her name––as I've promised not to––but I did want to share with you a snippet from a letter that is scheduled to be sent out to thousands of readers this month. 

"I can’t say that I’ve ever aspired to be great. Greatness is like a Jaguar. It’s elusive. So elusive, in fact, that if you sacrifice your life chasing it through the jungles of South America, you’ll either 1). never so much as catch a glimpse of it or 2). come down with a tragic case of Malaria

This is the danger in greatness. Or, the pursuit of it, rather. It’s not promised. And, a chance at it demands a sacrifice you shouldn’t take lightly: Your life.  

In my youth, I sought not to be great but interesting. This is the very same advice I give to the young people who ask me out to Vespers––their eyes wide and their tails bushy––eager and enthusiastic to make something of themselves. 

I tell them that they don’t have to make anything of themselves; that they are already themselves. 

And, that the sooner they realize that, the sooner they can go on living their young, beautiful lives for their own sake rather than for the sake of some unpromised achievement.

This is something everyone can control: living an interesting life."

In this letter, I was attempting to explain to the reader that while "greatness" isn't always something we can control––it tends to rely substantially on God-given talent and a hell of a lot of luck––living an interesting life is something all of us have the power to achieve, no matter our circumstances. 

The problem, however, is that as we grow older and become set in our routines, we lose our childlike wonder and curiosity. 

We stop picking up new hobbies. We stop trying different ice cream flavors. We stop staying up late reading good fiction. We stop getting excited about going to the movies. We stop using our imaginations. We stop playing games. We stop collecting strange things. We stop stopping in the middle of the street to pet dogs. 

Why? Perhaps, because we lose our sense of curiosity.

Lesson Ten––Living an interesting life makes us more expansive writers, too.

The irony in interesting people is that they aren't trying to be interesting. If all it took to be interesting was purchasing a café bike, slipping on an expensive pair of selvage denim jeans, sliding a red handkerchief in your pocket and crossing your legs on the patio of some coffee shop whilst sipping a Cubano and smoking a stubby hand-rolled cigarette, everybody and his brother would be "interesting"; at least here in Nashville. 

Interesting people don't try to be interesting. They try to be curious. While some folks are naturally very curious, curiosity is a muscle you can flex and build through daily repetition and intention. 

Here are a few things that curious people do better than others:

  • They listen well
  • They try to be present
  • They ask good questions
  • They are quick to go down rabbit holes
  • They're always learning something new
  • They value experiences over things
  • They're voracious readers

One evening, I was killing time with an old friend of mine that I hadn't seen in years. We spent hours together. I took him to a boxing class then to one of my favorite BBQ joints then to a hole-in-the-wall bar here in my neighborhood where we enjoyed cigars and cheap red wine. At the end of it, he paid me a lovely compliment.

He said something along the lines of...

"Years ago, a buddy of mine met Bill Clinton. Naturally, I asked him what he was like. My buddy said that if you spend 30-minutes with Bill, you talk about Bill for 30-seconds of it. Bill makes you feel like the most important person in the world when you're with him. All he wants to talk about is you and what you're up to. You've got that quality in you, too."

While I can't say I know much about Bill Clinton, I appreciated my friend's words made not only my evening but my week.

Prompt Ten––Take a moment and learn something new about someone.

Have a conversation with somebody, anybody and do your best to make them feel like the most important person in the world. Afterward, write something you learned about them that you didn't know before.

Chapter Eleven––How to write a sex scene without ever writing the word “sex”.

Soundtrack: Redbone

Contrary to common belief, creating sexual tension isn’t about being performative. It’s about stripping back. It’s about saying just enough to get the thoughts stirring and then shutting up so the thoughts can do what thoughts do best: imagine, create, anticipate and fill in the blanks.

Overly flowery prose feels like a porn director's take on a Ménage à trois.

It's invigorating at first but then all the moving parts become difficult to keep tabs on and the viewer exits the theater a few scenes in; feeling both dizzy and tragically over-stimulated.

There's a story I read once of the late, great Science Fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut going to see a film that depicted a Ménage à trois––it's funny how the French can make a threesome sound like poetry––and he walked out after five or ten minutes with a single critique…

"Too much of a good thing."

In A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemingway manages to write a sex scene without actually describing anything "sexual" that took place.

It reads as follows...

"That night at the hotel, in our room with the long empty hall outside and our shoes outside the door, a thick carpet on the floor of the room, outside the windows the rain falling and in the room light and pleasant and cheerful, then the light out and it exciting with smooth sheets and the bed comfortable, feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away; all other things were unreal."

The reader can not only infer that sex was had but the sex, in many ways, becomes heightened because it was purposefully left unmentioned.

Lesson Eleven––Write through omission.

Ernest Hemingway calls this his Iceberg Theory.

He believed that, not unlike how an iceberg invisibly towers below the ocean’s surface, most of a story should be hidden from the reader, leaving ample room for imagination to wander and fill in the gaps.

Think of it like losing your car keys.

Most days, your car keys aren't all that important to you. You don't think twice about them. But, when they suddenly go missing and you can't get from A to Z, you become fixated on them, you become obsessed with finding them; your imagination becomes restless, painting endless pictures of where you could have left them.

Omission in writing works the same way; the reader fixates on not just the lines but what's between them. They fill in the gaps.

With Hemingway's excerpt up above, you probably found yourself imagining what they were doing in that room. Your imagination can paint an even prettier picture than Hemingway ever could with words.

A lot of writers these days think readers are dumber than a cross-eyed ostrich. So, they spell it out for them and what they get is boring writing.

Prompt Eleven––When is it okay to lie?

One of the sexiest songs I've ever listened to is Pussy Is Mine by Miguel where in just 2 minutes and 53 seconds, he tells the story of an entire love affair.

"Keep it one hundred babe
We both know
I'm not the only one
But when I'm there
You treat a n**** real good
And that's probably why I always cum, yeah
So lie to me, lie to me, lie to me so sweet
'Cause I don't ever want to imagine
All the other n***** like me
Ever had a chance
To get in your pants, so
Tell me that that pussy is mine, yeah
Tell me, tell me, baby, that it's all mine, yeah

As you've probably gathered by reading the lyrics, Miguel is asking the woman in the story to lie to him so he can tell himself the story he wants to believe.

This leads me to today's writing prompt: When is it okay to lie?

Hold on. Don't start typing just yet. There's more.

In the above excerpt, there are just 82 words and 387 characters. So, you're going to write me an essay––that's no longer than 82 words––explaining when it is okay to lie.

Once you've completed this 82-word essay, you're going to revise these 82 words so that their combined character count is no more than 387 characters. No. The title of your piece isn't tallied toward your word/character count.

Chapter Twelve––Anger is Pepto Bismol for writer’s block.

Soundtrack: Zombie

I can't say I hate many people. Honestly, I can't say that I hate anyone. There are, however, a few people that aren't my cup of tea.

While I don't hate James Patterson, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift, they certainly wouldn't be the first guests I would invite to a dinner party (not that they would have any interest in attending my dinner party).

I don't think it's good practice to get in the habit of talking shit about multiple people––especially not in a single sitting––so I will talk shit about just one person.

James Patterson doesn't write any of his own books yet claims that he is the most-read author on the planet. Patterson treats his book writing like SNL treats the creation of their skits. He essentially writes out an outline and then hands it off to a ghostwriter to "fill in the blanks".

This to me isn't a writer. It's a creative director or editor.

He, in many ways, is everything I'm not. I've written every word that's ever been published under my name and the day I find myself wrestling with the temptation to hand my pen off to someone else will be the day I set it down for good.

Lesson Twelve––Hold a grudge and write about it.

More times than not, when writers feel stopped up and constipated, the Pepto Bismol is writing more. Yes. It might just be more shit. But, my philosophy is that if you write enough shit, sooner or later, you're going to write something that isn't shit.

There’s a joke that hits a little too close to home for literary lovers: If you give forty monkeys typewriters and enough time to bang on them, eventually you're going to come up with Shakespeare.

I obviously disagree with this. But, I appreciate the sentiment. If you write enough––no matter your talent––you're eventually going to write something legible.

A practice that always helps me when I'm feeling blocked, is to write about something that makes me extremely angry.

LinkedIn Influencers make me extremely angry. Extremists of any kind make me extremely angry. Vladamir Putin makes me extremely angry. Too much talk of chakras makes me extremely angry. Too much talk of guns makes me extremely angry. Folks giving advice to other folks on topics they have no experience in makes me extremely angry. Shitty wifi at coffee shops makes me extremely angry. Unexpected house expenses make me extremely angry. Nashville traffic at 4 p.m. makes me extremely angry. Rich Instagram poets make me extremely angry (and jealous). You get the gist.

If you’re ever blocked, think about something or someone that pisses you off and then write to them. Trust me, you’ll find the word.

Prompt Twelve––Who do you loathe and how are you two similar?

For today's writing prompt, you're going to describe to me––in great detail––someone you hate, loathe, dislike, etc. If it's not a celebrity but someone personal, be sure to blot out their name and remove any details that might blow your cover.

Once you've completed this exercise, I want you to tell me one quality the two of you have in common.

James Patterson and I are both fans of Stephen King.

(Well, he was until King told a literary magazine that Patterson was a "terrible writer"...)

Patterson and I both got our start working in advertising but found ourselves longing for something more: a literary career.

Patterson and I both suffer from what Charles Bukowski once described as... wanting the whole world or nothing at all.

And, despite the fact that I don't agree with how Patterson goes about writing his books, I think both of us share a deep love of them.

He’s given millions of dollars to keep used bookstores alive and I respect the hell out of that.

Chapter Thirteen––No, seriously, I’m laughing my head off over here.

Soundtrack: In Spite of Ourselves

My girlfriend and I broke up yesterday. 

We got into a terrible fight after she accused me of stealing her Encyclopedia. 

At first, I was speechless but when I finally found the words, I looked her right in her pretty hazelnut green eyes and I said...


The fact that you'd think I'd steal your Encyclopedia...




I'm shocked...

I'm appalled...

I'm astonished...

I'm dismayed...

I'm flabbergasted...

I'm dumbfounded...

And you know what..?

I'd even go as far as to say...


I'm consternated!"

It’s called satire. It's the use of humor, irony and exaggeration to make folks snicker, pay attention or take a second look at societal norms that deserve questioning if not criticism. 

Lesson Thirteen––How to make readers snicker through the page.

Satire is a sensationally powerful writing tool.

It's the reason why SNL has been going strong since 1975. It's why Jerry Seinfeld is worth $950 million. It's why TikTok has over a billion monthly users. 

Satire is a difficult skill to teach because––not unlike a 36-inch verticle, a full head of hair, a round rump, an 8-pack, a perfect C cup, a chiseled jawline, a metabolism that never stops humming and a well-endowed trouser snake––a funny bone is something people either have or don't

However, even if you aren't destined to be the next Seinfeld, doesn't mean that your writing can't improve by sprinkling in a bit of satire. 

For me, satire happens by combining tension and exaggeration.

Notice how at the beginning of this lesson I created tension by telling you that my girlfriend and I broke up. Then, I used exaggeration with my reaction to her accusing me of stealing her encyclopedia. 

Think of the formula for satire as a "?" followed by a "!". 

Prompt Thirteen––Tell me a joke.

I want you to describe to me the funniest, scariest, most ridiculous moment you've ever been a part of. 

I want you to hook me into the story by creating tension. 

"I thought my mother-in-law was dead..."

"My roommate walked in on me..."

"I didn't know if the bleeding would ever stop..."

Then, once you've created that tension like a drawn bowstring, I want you to fire the punchline like an arrow with so much force and exaggeration that I can't help but smile.

Have fun. 

Chapter Fourteen––John Steinbeck’s letter to his lovestruck son will break your heart.

Soundtrack: Yebba’s Heartbreak

One of the literary world's most beautiful exchanges was between John Steinbeck and his son, Thom, who wrote him one day, out of sorts, very much in love.

Steinbeck wrote a letter back to his son; a letter that I share with any friend or loved one who is falling in love or falling out of love.

*John Steinbeck is writing now*

"Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind.

The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Lesson Fourteen––Finding your ideal reader.

When Stephen King sits down to write something, he writes to just one person. He calls this writing technique your "Ideal Reader" and describes it as follows... 

"I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what she will think when she reads this part?"

By writing to just one person, your writing instantly becomes personal to not just that person but everyone. 

Prompt Fourteen––Write a letter to somebody who means something to you.

I want you to write a letter to someone, anyone.

Whether you share this letter with them is not so much the point; the point is that you are writing totally to them and only to them and nobody else. 

Once you've written this letter, read it aloud to yourself. 

Do you notice how your writing reads as if it is written directly to you, for you? This is the lesson. 

Chapter Fifteen––Don’t forget to salt your shoulders.

Soundtrack: Space Oddity

My grandmother, Mitsuko Iijima, was the most superstitious person I've ever met. After the funerals our family would attend, she'd make all her children and grandchildren toss table salt over our shoulders before stepping foot into her home.

This strange practice was her way of shooing away any evil spirits that took a liking to us while we were paying our respects to the recently deceased.

It wasn't until I traveled to Japan, nearly a decade after her death, that I realized her superstitions were simply a side-effect of her culture.

The Japanese are an incredibly spiritual people and nearly all of them practice some degree of Buddism or Shintoism.

The latter religion I mentioned, Shintoism, revolves around the concept that spirits inhabit everything.

These spirits are called "Kami" and the religion itself is meant to strike a balance between people and yes, you guessed it, Kami.

My grandmother's father was a Shinto Priest and she described his job as keeping the good spirits around and the bad spirits away.

While she was still alive, she told me a story once about her brother walking home late one night as a teenager.

When her father opened the door, he saw that something terribly dark was in close stride behind him. So, he let out a roar that shook the neighborhood and the evil spirit fled from his son's shadow up into the trees and then away into the night sky.

I don't know whether or not this story is true––I think for my grandmother and her family it very much was––but typing it now gives me chills and most days I try not to think about a spirit world that I cannot see, spinning fates, causing mischief and following people home.

All that to say, there are two Japans. There is the physical Japan that you can touch, feel, see, taste and hear and then, there is the invisible, spiritual Japan that the Japanese are constantly trying to keep in order.

Naturally, this breeds superstitions.

In Japan, you never sleep with your pillow pointing North, unless you want to die young. In Japan, when a cat washes its face, you pack an umbrella with you the next morning because it means it will very likely rain the following day.

In Japan, if you're lucky enough to look down to see a tea leaf standing upright in your cup, it means good fortune. In Japan, when you sneeze, it means someone is talking about you.

In Japan, if your earlobes are big, it means you will become rich. In Japan, you don't hang wet laundry at night, unless you want to attract evil spirits.

And while it's easy for those of us that don't practice Shintoism to scoff at the ridiculous superstitions of the Japanese, I truly believe that all of us are superstitious about something.

It can be as ordinary as not crossing the path that a black cat just walked. Or, as bizarre as never trimming your toenails at night.

Lesson Fifteen––Your quirks, oddities, peculiarities and superstitions are what make you interesting.

What makes writers interesting are their quirks, oddities and peculiarities. And, I can’t think of anything more bizarre than a writer’s superstitions.

There's a reason why Earnest Hemingway had 60 cats running around his Florida and Cuban homes and it wasn't just because he enjoyed having them around.

Prompt Fifteen––What are you superstitious of?

Tell me, what are you superstitious of? And, why?

Chapter Sixteen––What will you be remembered for?

Soundtrack: Bohemian Rhapsody

I once heard a story of a great athlete who was offered a full-ride basketball scholarship to a Division I school in Evansville, Indiana. 

Unfortunately, during his senior year, he blew out his knee, his scholarship offer was revoked and he was forced to play basketball as a walk-on at a no-name Division III school in his hometown.

He was devastated and understandably so. His dreams of reaching the heights of collegiate basketball stardom were melting away to nothing right before his eyes. 

The following year, the Division I basketball team––that he would have been a part of had it not been for his bum knee––boarded Air Indiana Flight 216 to compete at an away game in Tennessee.

The flight went down 90-seconds into take-off, killing everybody onboard.  

There's a Chinese proverb, it goes something like this... 

A farmer and his son had a horse that helped them plow their fields and earn a living. One day, the horse ran away. Their neighbor said, “What terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so. We will see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home with a few wild mares closely in tow. Their neighbor said, “What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so. We will see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son broke his leg while trying to break one of the mares. Their neighbor said, “What terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so. We will see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers marched through town, drafting able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, seeing he was badly injured. Their neighbor said, “What good luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so. We will see.”

I think about death more often than I’d care to admit. I blame my grandmother.

She dropped dead of a massive aneurysm at seventy-two. I wasn't there, thankfully, but my grandfather later told me it was right after they had shared a bowl of ice cream.

He said they were flirting with one another like they were twenty years old again and everything felt light and beautiful and easy; the way love should feel after fifty years of life together.

After they finished their ice cream, he kissed her on the cheek and then went to the other room to watch whatever sporting event was on television that day. It was here where he heard her scream and then hit the ground so hard that it shook the house.

By the time I showed up at the hospital, her eyes were closed and she had tubes snaking their way into her nose and she was breathing in what looked like tiny tugs––as if somebody else was pulling the strings to her lungs––with the help of a machine.

My entire family knew she was going to die but nobody could let her go. I think when you have to pull the plug on someone you love, in a way, you feel like you're the one killing them.

When my family found the courage to let her take her last breath, it felt as though a part of me went with her.

She was more than a grandmother to me. She was my best friend. She held me and she cuddled me and she laughed with me and she cooked for me and she taught me all the lessons she had to learn on her own after moving to America from Japan at the age of nineteen.

Most of all, my grandmother understood me. I had been badly abused at a young age and while my grandmother and I never spoke of it, I think she could tell I was different; that at six, seven and eight years old I was living with the pain and experience of someone decades older than me.

Being that this abuse came at the hands of a man, it made it very difficult for me to trust men. This full-blooded Japanese woman, almost fifty years my senior, became my guardian angel; my saving grace.

It's been a decade since her passing and I write about her often to keep her alive. But, it's never easy. It always leaves me with a fist, clenching, somewhere near the back of my throat where my soul resides.

If her passing has taught me anything, it's that life is precious; it's that one moment we'll be eating ice cream with the love of our life and the next moment, we'll be in a hospital barely holding on.

Lesson Sixteen––Leave the world better than you found it.

I don't think it's worthwhile to think about death––at least not for too long––but I do think it's worth asking ourselves how we want to leave the world after we've moved on.

I have many mantras but this is, without a doubt, the most important one: Leave the world better than you found it.

I’m romantic, as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now. But, I think at the core, this is something all good writers seek to do: to leave the world a little better than they found it, one page at a time.

Prompt Sixteen––How will you leave the world better than you found it?

One day, when you least expect it, you are going to die.

Tell me, how are you going to leave the world better than you found it?

This is the end––goodbye.